Students, Faculty Collaborate To Nominate Math Professor for Award

The biggest reward you get from (teaching) is seeing students learn and having students really understand how much they have accomplished through your help.

Professor Jeanne Wald

There’s a light knock on Jeanne Wald’s office door. She opens it to be greeted by a smiling postdoc stopping by to thank her for her help before he departs for a new faculty position in Texas. It’s that kind of moment Wald loves most about her job.

“The biggest reward you get from (teaching) is seeing students learn and having students really understand how much they have accomplished through your help,” says Wald, a professor and associate chair of the Department of Mathematics.

It was not just one, or two, or three people who nominated Wald for the Honors College Award for Distinguished Contributions to Honors Students in 2015. Former and current Honors College students, and a team of her department colleagues, were behind the nomination.

When asked what it means to receive the award, Wald says, “It’s very nice to be appreciated. I am deeply touched by the efforts my students and colleagues made on my behalf.”

Wald has been a leader in three major department initiatives that have involved Honors College students and enriched their experience during her more than 30 years at Michigan State University.

More than 20 years ago, she created the Math Learning Center and more recently helped expand it to the neighborhoods across campus. Many Honors College students have worked at these centers over the years.

Six years ago, Wald headed a leadership team that created the Advanced, mathematics majors for students, which was intentionally geared to challenge Honors College students and prepare them either for graduate school or a professional field.

Advanced mathematics majors can also participate in a Chinese exchange program Wald championed.

“The curriculum examines, in a substantial way, high-level undergraduate mathematics,” Wald says of the major, which is most often referred to as the Advanced Track Program.

While it is fast-paced, the focus is on mastering undergraduate mathematics in depth, Wald explains. “I don’t think I’ve ever gotten the comment that my class is too easy,” she said. “(Most students) really appreciate in the end being stretched.”

Two classes of students have graduated with the advanced, mathematic major. Wald said she expects to hear that many of them are making breakthroughs in their fields in the years to come.

“It’s always really fun to work with students who are curious and bright and like to have a challenge,” she said.

This article was originally published in HConnections 2015.